NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Three years after his murder in 2016, loved ones recall 25-year-old Tulane University Graduate Thomas Rolfes as a kind, wonderful young man.
“He was so nice; like he would never do anything bad to anyone,” said his mother, Julie Rolfes.
Liz Fried, his fiancee, said he was a kind soul who was always smiling.
In May of 2016, Rolfes was overjoyed as he and his fiancee returned to New Orleans to find the perfect wedding spot. Rolfes’ love for New Orleans began in 2005, right after Hurricane Katrina when he and his dad traveled from St. Louis to help deliver relief aid.
New Orleans is also the city where he met his love, Fried, at Tulane University.
Both graduated from Tulane and were back in the city for a weekend of wedding planning.
“He was over the top, this was everything he had hoped for. It was the beginning of a great weekend,” said his father, Ron Rolfes.
“It was just an incredible experience, the wedding planning process . It was a whirlwind,” added Fried.
On Friday May 6, 2016, Rolfes arrived in New Orleans two hours before his fiancee . When she arrived later at the Hyatt Hotel on Loyola Ave. next to the Superdome, he had already left to meet friends .
She decided to stay in while Rolfes hung out with college friends in Uptown New Orleans at Miss Mae’s Bar. It’s located at the corner of Magazine and Napoleon avenues.
Police said after spending time with his friends, a surveillance camera at the bar captured video of Rolfes leaving alone at 2:39 a.m. on Saturday. However, much of what happened after he left Miss Mae’s bar remains unknown.
No one recalls seeing him leave so its unclear if he walked or got a ride. Fried suspects she knows where he was heading back to the hotel.
The next time police saw Rolfes it was 3:29 a.m. This time he’s captured on surveillance video walking into the Delta Fuel gas station at South Claiborne Ave. and Toledano St. The station is around two miles away from Miss Mae’s Bar.
This is the last known area the victim was seen on video alive," said NOPD Cold Case Detective Winston Harbin.
The detective says they found no other surveillance video in the area to show which route he took to arrive at the gas station, however the video they have of him inside the station, shows he purchased two bottles of water.
However his loved ones say the purchase of the bottled water at the gas station suggests something was wrong because he did not believe in buying bottled water for environmental reasons.
“He would even yell at me if I bought bottled water because it wasn’t good for the Earth," said his father. The family suspects he may have bought the bottled water to help someone . But no one knows.
After he left the gas station, investigators said they found no other surveillance video to indicate if he stopped anywhere else.
The next time he was seen alive is two blocks away at Amelia St. and South Claiborne Ave. at 3:50 a.m. A camera at another business captured his final moments alive at that intersection.
Harbin revealed what investigators saw on the portion of that surveillance video that was not released to the public. He talked about what Rolfes was doing when he first appeared on the video right before he collapses.
“From the time he comes into view of that camera he’s running. Then collapses; running means the altercation occurred beyond the view of the camera and this is where he ends up," Harbin said.
At 4:30 a.m., police received the 911 call. A driver passing by told the operator the condition of a white man on the ground who was not breathing. Police also released that portion of the surveillance video that shows the driver discovering Rolfe’s body.
Three years later, Rolfe’s killer remains on the loose despite a nearly $30,000 reward. Harbin said they do have new DNA evidence but they cannot elaborate because it could compromise the case. Harbin also suspects two people may have been involved in the fatal crime.
The detective suspects Rolfes left the gas station and walked down Willow St. towards the direction of Amelia St. That is when Harbin believes someone shot Rolfes in the chest during a robbery, then the injured Rolfes ran down Amelia St. towards South Claiborne Ave. and collapsed.
At the scene, investigators found his dead cell phone, but his wallet was missing. Police said they also never found any trace of someone using his credit cards. His loved ones said he also usually did not have cash on him. They also did not find any gun shell casings.
Police said that Rolfe’s injured his hands in a struggle. Based on where his body was found and what they saw on the surveillance video, Harbin suspects whatever happened did not occur at the spot where his body was found.
“(It) leads me to believe that it was somewhere between here and there,” said Harbin as he pointed away from the site where Rolfe’s body was found to farther up Amelia St. at the intersection of Willow St.
For now, the NOPD’s focusing on two potential witnesses they want to come forward and they stress they are not suspects. One man was seen walking up South Claiborne Ave. that morning. The other was wearing a striped shirt and he was inside the gas station at the same time as Rolfes was there.
Harbin said the man in the striped shirt arrived in an SUV, made his purchase and left. He believes the two men could have witnessed a key clue in the case.
“They witnessed the victim walking or perhaps they witnessed someone follow the victim,” said Harbin “They heard saw or encountered someone or saw something else that we couldn’t see on video.”
Three years after his death, Rolfe’s loved ones are pleading for help to end their nightmare.
“It keeps me up at night. The situations you run in your head was so awful and because we don’t know what happened you have no sense of closure,” Fried said.
Their hope is that someone will come forward to help them find justice for Rolfes in the city that he so dearly loved.
If you have any information that can help NOPD Detectives with the case call Harbin at 504-658-5300 or 504-658-5315